Montreal Museum of Fine Arts presents


The striking black and white photographs of legendary American photographer Diane Arbus (1923-1971) revolutionized portraiture, through their range of subjects and their style. Primarily made in and around New York City, Arbus selected her subjects – including couples, children, nudists, suburban families, circus performers, and celebrities, among others – for their singularity.

Diane Arbus: Photographs, 1956-1971 brings together some 90 photographs by the artist, which were carefully chosen from among the 522 gelatin silver prints the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) acquired in 2017, as well as one print from the MMFA’s permanent collection. From her intimate explorations of the streets of New York to her large-format portraits, these images bear witness to the singular revolutionary vision of the celebrated photographer.

Diane Arbus (1923-1971), Teenage couple on Hudson Street, N.Y.C., 1963. Gelatin silver print; printed later. Sheet: 50.8 × 40.6 cm. Art Gallery of Ontario. Gift of Robin and David Young, 2016. Copyright © Estate of Diane Arbus

Highlighting the artist’s evolution over 15 years, the exhibition presents a sweeping chronological account of Arbus’s career. It opens with an arresting self‐portrait from 1945 and begins in 1956, the year Arbus decided to seriously pursue photography. Early works in 35mm reveal an artist fascinated by the range of humanity and life as it unfolded on the street, while later works created using a larger format mark her emergence as a mature and compelling artist. Arbus created many of her most iconic works in this direct, sharply focused signature style. Displayed alongside the photographs are quotes from Arbus herself, revealing observations on her choices, intentions, technical challenges, and even her serendipitous discoveries and encounters.

“The exhibition will open viewers’ eyes to the groundbreaking practice of the American artist, while allowing those already familiar with her photography to discover its astonishing breadth, by means of a number of rarely shown early works. It movingly demonstrates how Arbus probed the human condition in her photography to make visible what unites and what divides us,” says Anne Grace, Curator of Modern Art, MMFA, and curator for the Montreal presentation of the exhibition.

“We are so excited to introduce Arbus, through this exhibition, to a new generation of museum goers. In fifteen short years, she produced perhaps the most compelling body of portraits the 20th century had seen to that point,” says Sophie Hackett, Curator of Photography, AGO, and curator of the exhibition. “The acquisition of our collection of Arbus photographs in 2017 was a landmark event for the AGO, and for Canada, and it’s an honour to share these works with MMFA audiences.”

Diane Arbus
Born in 1923, Arbus grew up in an affluent New York family that owned a department store on Fifth Avenue. At age 18 in 1941 she married Allan Arbus and for a decade the couple worked together – he as photographer, she as stylist, producing photographs for fashion magazines. Although she started making pictures for herself in the early 1940s, it was only in 1956, when she numbered a roll of film #1, that she began seriously pursuing the work for which she has come to be known. During the 1960’s she published more than 100 photographs in leading magazines like Esquire and Harper’s Bazaar. Arbus was awarded Guggenheim Fellowships in 1963 and 1966 for her project, “American Rites, Manners and Customs”. The photographs she produced in those years attracted a great deal of critical and popular attention when a group was selected for the legendary 1967 New Documents show at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. When she died by suicide in 1971, she was already something of a legend among serious photographers, although only a relatively small number of her most important pictures were widely known. In a career that lasted little more than fifteen years, Diane Arbus produced a body of work whose style and content have secured her a place as one of the most significant artists of the 20th century.

For information on opening hours and to purchase your tickets visit:

Related Posts